With all the controversy surrounding the “new” Harper Lee novel, I knew it was a “must read.” I also knew I didn’t want to buy it.
I have a house full of books and am trying not to buy anything new, unless I am sure I will read it more than once. I didn’t think that would be the case with Go Set A Watchman.
My reasoning was simple. The book’s first reviews were decidedly mixed. More importantly from my perspective though was that I remembered reading To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s only published novel, and not being all that impressed. Why invest money in the prequel if I wasn’t sure I would like it?
So I put myself on the waiting list at the library, and because I waited until after the book was published there were more than a thousand people on the list ahead of me. I settled in for a long wait, maybe I would get it by Christmas.
I jumped the queue by going on vacation. The librarian in the town we visit in Maine made sure I got my hands on a copy. There are advantages to being a regular – I’ve even had library books brought to me on the beach.
So now I have read Go Set A Watchman, and I know what the fuss was all about. And I am not sure if those who gave the book poor reviews were treating it on its merits, or whether their opinions were coloured by their love of To Kill A Mockingbird.
There is no doubt that this book has its flaws. I was left wondering if any editing was done to the manuscript before publication or if it was left as Harper Lee wrote it back in the 1950s. Certainly there were places where I felt it could be improved.
That said, I liked the book. Maybe because I have no emotional stake in the characters from To Kill A Mockingbird I could allow them to grow and change without being shocked or upset, which apparently many people have been.
Given the social changes in the American south in the years between the times the two novels were set, I was not completely surprised by the negative attitudes expressed by the character of Atticus Finch. Or maybe I was sufficiently prepared by the reviews.
My biggest criticism would be that the book is too preachy, that its message would be better conveyed by a subtle approach than a sledgehammer. The publishers thought so too when the book was first submitted, almost 60 years ago. They rejected it, and suggested redeveloping some characters. Harper Lee took those suggestions and wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, which became an instant classic.
After I finished Watchman I decided to re-read Mockingbird. It is a much better book, but, strangely enough I think I liked Watchman better.
Thinking about why, I realized it came down to the voice in which the story was told. Mockingbird is narrated by a child, Watchman by an adult. Maybe it is a deficiency in me, but I find adult tales draw me in more. Mockingbird may be better written and a more powerful message, I can see that, but I was reading for pleasure, and I know which story I enjoyed more.